On April 7, 2014, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”) denied a petition for rulemaking filed by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (“NIRS”) and 37 co-petitioners asking the NRC to amend its regulations that would expand emergency planning zones (“EPZs”) and the scope of emergency drills around nuclear facilities.   The NRC concluded that the current size of the EPZs is appropriate for existing reactors and that emergency plans will provide an adequate level of protection of the public health and safety in the event of an accident at a nuclear power plant.

NIRS first asked the NRC to expand the plume exposure pathway EPZ, in which detailed plans must be developed to provide prompt and effective evacuation in the case of a nuclear accident, from a 10-mile radius to a 25-mile radius.  Next, NIRS asked the NRC to create a new 50-mile radius EPZ that would include pre-planning procedures, such as informing residents of evacuation routes annually, allowing rapid expansion of the 25-mile zone if necessary.  Additionally, NIRS sought to expand the ingestion EPZ, in which measures to protect the public from eating and drinking contaminated sources must be implemented, from a 50-mile radius to a 100-mile radius.  NIRS argued that, in light of the events at Chernobyl and Fukushima Dai-ichi, the need for protective actions beyond 10 miles and 50 miles is likely.  NIRS further argued that the foundations for the current EPZ distances are flawed or outdated, and that ad hoc expansion past a 10-mile radius will be insufficient. 

In addition to restructuring the EPZs around nuclear facilities, NIRS requested that biannual emergency drills and exercises be conducted within the emergency evacuation zone, and that every other drill and exercise include a scenario with a regionally-relevant initiating or concurrent natural accident.  NIRS argued that natural disasters can trigger a nuclear disaster and can complicate the emergency response.

In denying the petition, the NRC concluded that the emergency preparedness programs and the current EPZs provide an adequate level of protection of the public health and safety and that appropriate protective actions will be taken in the case of a nuclear event.  The NRC also concluded that the current EPZs facilitate ad hoc expansion of the response efforts beyond the EPZ boundaries if necessary.  With regard to requiring every other emergency preparedness drill and exercise to include a regionally-relevant natural disaster, the NRC concluded that modification of existing regulations is unnecessary because licensees currently incorporate natural or destructive phenomena into their drill and exercise scenarios.

A copy of the decision is available here.